John & Lynda



In summary, the Fivepenny Piece were originally called The Wednesday Folk and consisted of brother and sister John and Lynda Meeks, Colin and George Radcliffe (brothers) and Eddie Crotty. Hailing from Ashton-under-Lyne and nearby Stalybridge, they became a firm fixture at the Broadoak Hotel in Ashton, making quite a name for themselves locally in the process. The group won a 1968 talent showcase on Granada TV called New Faces. To dispel a popular myth, this was not the same show that later became popular in the 1970s but a 5 minute weekly slot (which had been previously titled First Timers) presented by Tommy Vance and showcasing unknown performers, which then had an awards show at the end of each series. Tommy was so impressed he recommended them to the influential talent agency The Noel Gay Organisation, who immediately signed them. A BBC documentary in January 1969, The Persuaders, saw further prime time television exposure. The programme followed the group as they prepared to release their first single, and also witnessed the change from The Wednesday Folk to their new name The Fivepenny Piece.

The original Fivepenny Piece
Top row (l to r)  Lynda Meeks,  John Meeks
Bottom row (l to r) George Radcliffe, Colin Radcliffe,  Eddie Crotty

The first vinyl single in 1969 – under EMI’s Columbia subsidiary – ‘Running Free’ didn’t make waves, neither did the second ‘Hang The Flag Out Mrs. Jones’. However it did mark the songwriting duo of John Meeks (music) and Colin Radcliffe (lyrics) as composers of promising ability. The pair fitted together like gloves, John’s instantly humable melodies juxtaposing nicely with Colin’s sometimes whimsical, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant lyrics. Over the next ten years familiar themes would recur throughout the songs. Nostalgic essays on places and people from the near past, suspicion of modern living and comic monologues which inevitably employed stereotypical working class characters. It wasn’t hard to figure out why the Fivepenny connected with their audience so readily, these were not stars from ‘that there London’ whose lives were a million miles away from the ones their audiences would enjoy. Fivepenny were one of us, they embodied good old fashioned values and a down to earth outlook on life, blended with a large helping of northern humour. The group were further blessed with the angelic voice of Lynda Meeks, whose vocal talent on either lead or backing vocals gave Fivepenny a unique sound. With the weight of Noel Gay pushing them, Fivepenny made regular inroads into television giving them a showcase for the burgeoning live act of ballads and comic songs which were by now filling clubs and concert venues. An unofficial sixth member Phil Barlow on drums completed the ensemble as the path towards greater fame beckoned.

1972 proved a landmark year with the release of Fivepenny’s first album, simply entitled The Fivepenny Piece. Produced by the highly respected Bob Barratt (who would mastermind the next four albums) the groups sound further augmented by strings and horns. It is an impressive debut containing the core of the Fivepenny repertoire with all self penned material, most by the Meeks / Radcliffe combo with guitarist and vocalist Eddie Crotty adding to the songwriting rosta. The album opener “Mountain Climber” is a perfect example of Fivepenny’s strengths, a snapshot of a life in the Pennines beautifully played and sung by the five, wistful with a tinge of melancholy became the bedrock of their ballad sound. The album is two distinct personalities, side one features some great ballads whereas side two concentrates on the Lanky, comedic songs in the Lancashire dialect with titles like ‘Ee By Gum’ and ‘They Tell Us Owt’ mostly performed by Eddie Crotty, a master raconteur. It also features a song that would become a signature recording and firm favourite with their fans: ‘Big Jim’. The story of a giant worm who is used in an angling competition, was attached to an infectious sing-a-long chorus:

Big Jim were a worm, were a great big worm, were a great big / bright red / bloody red worm / Large and fat, and just like a picture / Crossed with an eel and a boa constrictor / Fed him on whiskey, which made him frisky / On pies and a pint or two / Big Jim were a worm, were a great big worm, were a great big, beautiful, bloody red worm.

Such was the demand for the Fivepenny Piece, that not one but two albums were released in 1973. The first one Makin’ Tracks capitalised on the route started with the debut LP. Devotees of trivia might like to note the contribution of Kevin Godley (Godley & Cream) on drums and Alan Parsons (The Alan Parsons Project) as a recording engineer. Along with homages to homemade beer and being henpecked were several ballads including ‘A Gradely Prayer’, a setting of the 1922 poem by Allen Clarke which would go on to be covered by Colin Crompton of Wheeltappers fame. The album was quickly followed by Songs We Like To Sing, which finally cemented the Fivepenny sound and style with songs about ‘Stalybridge Market’, life ‘Down Our Street’ and the curious tale of a travelling canine ‘Pete Was A Lonely Mongrel Dog Who Lived In Central Wigan’. It was infectious stuff and the public lapped it up, boosted as it was by numerous radio and television performances.

Perhaps inevitably, with a group sporting such a strong live following, in 1974 the group released their first live album, The Fivepenny Piece...On Stage. Recorded at the Broadoak Hotel (where else?), it proved to be a triumph and perhaps provided a definitive account of their talent. Outrageous comic songs ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10’ and ‘Dieting’ were juxtaposed with the haunting Meeks / Radcliffe compositions ‘Brown Photographs’ and ‘Sing No More For You My Friends’ among others. In addition a cover of ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ showcased that they were a match for any folk group on the circuit. The album sold like hot cakes.

Wish You Were Here became the fifth album release in 1975. The last incidentally to carry the groups name as The Fivepenny Piece, they were simply Fivepenny Piece from here on in. Primarily an album group there were a few single releases on the way, and in 1975 ‘Big Jim’ and ‘Ee By Gum’ were re-recorded as a single in order to replace the word ‘bloody’ with ‘ruddy’ making it a much more BBC friendly, and therefore suitable for airplay.  As 1976 dawned the group were honoured with an episode of the BBC2 retrospective The Camera & The Song devoted to their music.  They even wrote a new song for the programme, 'King Cotton',  a haunting melody telling the tale of the raise and fall of the Lancashire cotton mills.  It would become the title track of their most successful commercial album.  The album would  take its lead from the BBC2 show by interspersing tracks with refrains from 'Brown Photographs', the song that had debuted on the 1974 live album.  It gave the LP the feeling of a larger work,  almost a concept album.  Another song featured on the album was the ever popular 'Watercolour Morning',  perhaps the most radio friendly song they ever recorded.   The group also landed themselves a residency on the hugely popular BBC1 consumer show That's Life fronted by Esther Rantzen,  alternating each week with Victoria Wood by providing a 'song of the week'.  With millions watching,  is it any wonder the King Cotton album climed to #9 in the UK album charts.

The Queen’s Silver Jubilee year 1977 proved to be a busy one for the already in demand Fivepenny Piece. There were two albums for EMI. The first Telling Tales brought yet more of the nostalgia songs coupled with a healthy slice of Lancashire comedy. The second On Stage Again, saw the group back at the Broadoak Hotel for another helping of live performance on vinyl. There was a follow up to ‘Big Jim’ in the tale of ‘Big Jim Meets Nessie’ plus the first crossover with the material of Bernard Wrigley in ‘Our Bill and The Concrete Mixer’. In April BBC 2 hosted a 50 minute special Fivepenny Piece With Mike Harding, and that national comedy treasure and musical theatre star Dora Bryan recorded an album entirely devoted to the music of Fivepenny. Dora Bryan Sings Fivepenny Piece had a lot to commend it among the 12 tracks chosen, proving once again what timeless songs the Meeks-Radcliffe partnership had produced. Even Basil Brush featured his version of a couple of Fivepenny classics on the witty fox's 1977 album.

Is it any wonder the Fivepenny LP sales and concert tickets were booming, because they were for a time literally everywhere. They had their own BBC series M.H. & 5p (1978) The Fivepenny Piece Show (1979) and several specials such as Christmas Eve With Pam Ayres and The Fivepenny Piece (1981). This in addition to regular guest spots on the biggest television shows of the day including Seaside Special, Wheeltappers and Shunters, The David Nixon Show, The Ken Dodd Show and Pebble Mill At One.

1979 saw the band's tenth and final album for EMI (or it’s subsidiaries Columbia and One-Up) with Peddlers Of Songs. It represented a new approach for the Fivepenny’s. There were no Crotty–led comic songs at all, and the songwriting credits show that only half of the material was self-penned by band members. But all the familiar harmonies were there, as a more sophisticated easy listening pop sound was attempted with pleasing results.

No sooner had 5PP waved goodbye to their long standing association with EMI, then the same year a second LP was on the market, this time for the Philips label, entitled Life Is A Game Of Chance. This album returned to more familiar territory with Eddie Crotty's earthy humour again being pressed into action, whilst still retaining a strong pop sensibility that had been established on the previous record. There are six songs penned by the band, three from ‘Bolton Bullfrog’ Bernard Wrigley and his songwriting partner Dave Dutton as well as a take on a couple of song classics: Ian Tyson’s ‘Four Strong Winds’ and a song that could easily have come from the pens of the band themselves, an homage to the Salford painter L.S. Lowry, ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats And Dogs’.

As 1980 dawned, the year would see the final album release on a major label for the Fivepenny Piece. Again for Philips, An Evening With The Fivepenny Piece was the third live album of their career. This time recorded at the Oldham Coliseum, it was very much the fun side of Fivepenny, plus a take or two on some folk favourites. Crucially there are no self penned songs, but again half the playlist comes from the song catalogue of Bernard Wrigley, whose style is tailor made for Fivepenny’s repertoire. Sadly this proved the end of Fivepenny Piece recording for major labels.  EMI scuppered the new releases on Philips by issuing three compilation albums during the group's two year tenure at the new label, thus confusing record buyers as to which was the latest release by the band. 

The loss of founder member and songwriter John Meeks was going to be a major one for the group as he left for pastures new. But the Fivepenny’s are a resilient bunch and they recruited Trevor Chance (who had been a winner on ATV’s New Faces in the 1970s). The new look group issued a couple of singles on Mike Records (a label about which little information can be found) in 1982. The first a patriotic medley of First World War songs ‘Tiperary / Pack Up Your Troubles / Keep The Home Fires Burning’ (presumably in response to the Falklands War raging at the time) and then ‘The Christmas Story’, a new composition by Chance and Colin Radcliffe.

It wouldn’t be long before the group would lose a second Meeks. Lynda, like her brother, decided to move on. Losing the lone female voice of the group was always going to be a big blow, especially when it was so recognisable to the army of Fivepenny admirers. However, Andrea Mullins stood in the wings (formerly of The Caravelles pop duo in the 1960s) and joined the group in 1983. An LP was issued soon after, Here We Are Again on the independent BDA Records label, again produced by Bob Barrett who had masterminded the earlier LPs for EMI. It would feature a number of compositions by Trevor Chance and Colin Radcliffe. And as if to mark the return of Barrett to the producers chair, the album opened and closed with ‘Mountain Climber’ and ‘Big Jim’ respectively, as they had on that first album in 1972. This version of the group staggered through until 1985 when it was decided to disband Fivepenny. It was the end of an era, were the Fivepenny’s gone for good?

The answer was of course, not on your Nellie! Sometime in the 1990s Eddie, George and Andrea joined up with Pete Brew and local legend Bernard Wrigley whose songs had been recorded on many a Fivepenny album to create a new version of the group. Although this line up didn’t last long, they did manage to release an album entitled 57 Fivepenny Favourites. Something of an anomaly in the Fivepenny canon, this recording didn’t feature any original material or celebrate the Lancashire culture that had been at the forefront of their LPs. It was instead a series of medleys of popular folk and pop songs which had been created in the studio by Wrigley and Brew, and the Fivepenny members were then brought in to add their vocal contributions.

Fivepenny Piece circa 1996
Top row (l to r) Pete Brew,  Andrea Mullins,  Bernard Wrigley
Bottom row (l to r):  Eddie Crotty, George Radcliffe

Around the Millennium, a final album was released under the Fivepenny Piece banner. Better Than Ever was a return to more familiar territory, providing new versions of Fivepenny favourites and adding their take on some well known folk songs. Alan Taylor and John Eatock had now joined Eddie, George and Andrea in the line-up. The band were still gigging in the mid noughties, former Houghton Weavers front man Norman Prince and Paul Johnson were now part of the live duties with only Eddie left as an original member. Somewhere along the line Fivepenny Piece faded from view, having entertained the public for over a quarter of a century and reaching heights that none of the original members would have believed possible at the beginning of their career, jamming together in a pub for fun.

The story doesn’t quite end there though. In the late noughties, John and Lynda Meeks produced a series of CDs with new material written by John coupled with some Fivepenny Piece classics. Among these releases was Where It All Began recorded before a live audience at the Ashton Under Lyne golf club reuniting with Eddie Crotty to bring a flavour of the original group back to the venue where it had all started. It proved to be a last glorious hurrah for the original group.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary since the very first Fivepenny Piece album was released,  in 2022 a new CD The Lost Sessions was released through this website containing session recordings by the original group re-discovered and unheard for five decades. 

Sadly we have lost most of the original Fivepenny Piece now. George left us in 2002, Eddie in 2009 and Lynda in 2013. However they leave a fitting legacy of northern culture and a catalogue of songs detailing many aspects of life of an often by-gone age coupled with superb melodies, lyrics and harmonies. Their music has a timeless quality, as all the best folk music does, and will continue to be appreciated by generations to come. Let’s raise a glass to the fab five of Ashton-Under-Lyne, long may their tales of brown photographs and giant worms continue to be enjoyed.

The Fivepenny Piece website was originally created by Paul Gunningham in 2001.  Upon Paul's tragic death in 2007,  Frank Blades agreed to take over the editing of the site.  In 2021 after fourteen years of faithful service, Frank handed over the reigns to fellow fan Rob Cope.

Website designed by Rob Cope  © 2021